Thursday, August 31, 2006

Mission Accomplished

Yesterday was a really great day. I woke up early feeling refreshed, and immediately went to work in the kitchen. Wednesdays are Abigail's ballet class, so supper is a crock-pot affair. For yesterday's offering, I determined that Vegetable Soup would be the best possibility. All these trips to the farm stand have my fridge and counter overflowing with goodness, so I needed to use some of these vegetables. I chose a recipe as a guideline for seasonings, but really just used what I had on hand. It literally was a chop-n-drop affair. I had that soup in the pot in about 15 minutes. It contained carrots, potatoes, celery, corn, cauliflower, onions, cabbage, green beans, bell pepper and diced tomatoes. It was rounded out with a little beef broth, but it certainly could have been made with a veggie broth. It was quite good. The directions stated to cook on high for 8 hours. That's a lot of high cooking, and so I had it on high for the first four and then turned it down to low. It was perfect, and actually made a lot, so now I have two more dinners of vegetable soup tucked into the freezer. The only change I would make, is that I think I could have upped the herbs a bit. It could have used some rosemary, and actually would be fantastic with some fresh herbs stirred in at the end.

To accompany this rather unadorned soup, I thought I would surprise Andy by making some homemade bread. I just made my standard whole wheat sandwich bread, but he was extremely pleased with the offering. And in fact, today for lunch he's having a ploughman's type lunch with a hunk of bread, hunk of cheese, and some fruit with the remainder of the bread.

A quick perusal of my fridge brought to life four red plums that needed to be eaten immediately or used for something. I remembered that in the recent issue of Everyday Food there was a section on plums, and immediately chose a Plum Upside Down Cake. This cake was excellent! First butter is melted in a pan and then sprinkled with brown sugar. The plums are layered on this, and then a cake batter is poured over the top. The juices from the plums meld with the melted butter and sugar to create a fantastic caramel sauce, and the cake itself is lightly spicey and moist. The only thing missing from it was a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream, as I didn't have any on hand. This cake is definitely company worthy. The directions state that you can serve it warm or cool- but one thing is certain. The cake must be flipped out of the pan while it is still warm. I let the cake cool completely after flipping it out, and I really think that allowed the caramel to settle into the cake itself- further gilding the lily, so to speak. Yesterday's cake and soup recipes are in the Trove for anyone interested.

And the beauty of yesterday's meal? I was finished with it by 10:00 in the morning. :-) By that point, the cake was baking, and the bread was rising for the second time, awaiting it's shaping and final rise. It was one of those mornings where I just found my motivation and kept going. It was great. It allowed me to spend the rest of the day as I wished, without dinner hanging out there needing to be prepared or worried about. It was great. I need to come up with more meals that I can prepare in advance like that. Not today though. Today we are on our way out the door this morning. I have a little girl who needs to finish her school shopping, so we will be doing that today. It will be fun, she loves clothes shopping, and especially loves trying on clothes. And after yesterday's dance class joy, it will just add to the pleasure of having her around a few more days before school starts. So off we go.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

On Kids and Food

You simply must read this post on Tigers & Strawberries. Well said Barbara! Well said! Further proof, in my opnion, that picky eaters are created, rather than a natural occurance. Check it out. It's a very well-thought out post.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Salsa It Is

Last night, when Andy brought home that bowl of tomatoes, I was really hopeful, but thought it unlikely that there would be enough tomatoes for salsa today. Nevertheless, I hauled out Andy's scale and started piling tomatoes on it. Imagine my surprise when the needle actually went a bit past the 10 pound mark. Apparently 10 pounds of tomatoes is less than I thought. And my salsa recipe calls for 10 pounds of tomatoes. My day had been decided for me.

The kids and I made a quick errand run to pick up the few things I needed to make salsa- most importantly, the hot peppers. Today, the farm stand had a selection of jalapenos, serranos, hot hungarian wax peppers, and lo and behold! Habaneros! At 10 cents apiece, I made up a goody bag of hot peppers for myself. My selection today was 5 jalapenos, 4 serranos, and 1 habanero to make my salsa. One more stop for some tomato paste, and I was in business.

Salsa making is a project, but the rewards are so worth it. I started by peeling and chopping the tomatoes. Then I got the intital mixture cooking, as I wanted to cook it down a bit. In the past, my salsa has always been a tad more watery than I would ideally like. So today I experimented by cooking the tomatoes down for a full hour instead of the usual 30 minutes. While that cooked down, I got the onions and peppers ready. I was so careful with the hot ones... I used those heavy duty Playtex yellow gloves for the jalapenos and the serranos. And then it was time for the habanero. I used my paring knife to very carefully take the sides off- leaving every last seed attached to the core. Then I chopped those tiny pieces on a double layer of Foodsaver bags- I really didn't want that heat to get trapped in my cutting board. Hot peppers dispatched of, I added them to the tomatoes, and then cooked it again for another 15 minutes or so. And finally, tomato paste was added until I was happy with the thickness, in this case it took 3 large cans.

I was thrilled when I started pouring the mixture into jars and I came up with 9 quarts of salsa! That's a lot of salsa to add to my ever growing pantry. Not to mention all the financial benefits of having that salsa. Football season is coming up, and Andy loves chips and salsa when he's watching the games. I also know that the guys that will be over every Monday night will also enjoy it, so today's labor was really a labor of love. There was sunshine in my kitchen today. I just found a happy place and the whole salsa making project today was a joyful experience. And I have fantastic salsa. Oh so wonderful- a bit on the fiery side, but there is a distinct fruitiness to this salsa that only comes from that wonderful habanero pepper.

And it will go beautifully with tonight's White Chicken Enchiladas for dinner. :-)

Here is the recipe for anyone interested. This is my Mom's recipe. You can play with it a bit to adjust to your tastes, here I have today's measurements of hot peppers, but the original called for 12 jalapenos and 5 chili peppers. What you cannot change, however, is the tomatoes, vinegar, and lime juice. You need those proportions of acid to make the salsa able to be canned. What you can play with is the garlic, cilantro, peppers, and any other additions. I've added chipotle chilies in the past (awesome!) and have also done one with more garlic and lime juice.


10 pounds tomatoes -- peeled and chopped
4-6 medium onions -- chopped
3-5 cups chopped bell peppers
5 jalapeno chile peppers -- seeded and chopped
4 serrano peppers -- seeded and chopped
1 habanero chile -- seeded and chopped
6 cloves garlic -- minced
1 1/3 cups apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup cilantro -- chopped
1/4 cup salt
3 teaspoons ground black pepper
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons lime juice
3 or 4 12 oz. cans tomato paste
1 Tablespoon ground cumin

Combine everything except bell peppers, hot peppers, onions, and tomato paste. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and simmer for at least 30 minutes, stirring occassionally.

Add all peppers and onions, return to a simmer, and simmer for another 10 minutes.

One can at a time, add the tomato paste, giving each addition time to cook a little bit (about 5 minutes between additions). Very frequent stirring will be necessary at this point. Add tomato paste until it's thickened nicely. Simmer 20 minutes more- stirring frequently to prevent scorching.

Ladle into hot jars. Add lids and process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes.

Makes 9 quarts of salsa.

Description: "Three Pepper Variation"

Yield: "9 quarts"

A Sweet Supper

I've gone back and forth on whether or not to post last night's dinner. The differing components were good... but they didn't belong together. Completely poor planning on my part, I guess. Yesterday I had a prok tenderloin thawed out, and had intended on making a Cider-pecan pork tenderloin. until I realized I didn't have apple cider. Plus I wanted to try something different, so I headed to the internet to find something. Honeybutter Pork Tenderloin got fantastic reviews on Recipezaar, and was incredibly simple to boot. So I whipped that up, and it was very good, almost decadent really. The honey and butter completely transformed the pork. It was extravagent. This would be the place to use an unusual honey, I think. I used a wildflower honey, and it was perfect. I would think that another honey like an orange blossom or a lavender honey would be equally excellent.

But it would have been better had it been accompanied by something not-sweet. A rice pilaf and some refrigerator pickles would have made a perfect meal. Instead, I decided that I needed to bake up some beets that I'd bought at the farmstand. I baked them dry in the oven (in a dish) for 70 minutes. Then I let them cool for about 30 minutes before peeling and slicing them up. Meanwhile, I'd put a cup of half & half in a saucepan with a clove of garlic and gently infused the cream with flavor. After the beets were sliced, they got a healthy seasoning of salt and pepper, and then the cream was strained and poured over the top. I set this on the stove and simmered for about 20 more minutes. The beets were very good- even Andy really liked them, and he's not a huge beet fan. My only problem with this dish was that the cream turned into an unappealing salmon pink color. And of course, all the baking really brought out the natural sugars in the beets, and they really didn't compliment the pork at all.

So, two new dishes last night. Both of them keepers, just not to be served at the same time. Today I have a gift of tomatoes to do something with. My biggest bowl is brimming from the generosity of a friend, and I just need to decide what to do with them. Part of me thinks I should just process them and can them- I think I easily have 4 or 5 quarts here. But then part of me is trying to decide if I should make a run back to the farmstand to pick up some jalapenos, habaneros, onions, and green peppers and make a batch of salsa. Decisions, decisions. I guess the first step will be to weigh my tomatoes and see if I have the 10 pounds needed for a batch of salsa- it will be close.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Apples Are Coming!!

Talk about a fantastic weekend. Seriously. We had a great mini-holiday in the city of Milwaukee- and our whole family feels refreshed and wonderful. I can't say that I have anything profound or food-related to share. We ate basic food, never went downtown to the Latin Festival, and other than the zoo, we spent all of our time at the hotel. However, that hotel time was most certainly not wasted or spent at leisure. Here in this first picture, family will see something never really seen before...

See that! Yes, that is Zander. In water. And he is smiling! This is where we spent most of our weekend. :-) The hotel we were at had both an indoor and oitdoor pool, and we spent equal time in both. Our son conquered his fear of water and was enamored. He just loved it. And for a little while there, he even tried a bit of swimming by himself with the aid of a pair of noodles. And not to be outdone...

Abigail conquered her fear of the underwater by learning how to hold her breath and plopping under for a few seconds. She was so proud of herself... We were in and out of that pool so often, our suits never dried inbetween pool visits. But the fun the kids were having was sooo wonderful, that we completely did not mind spending our weekend poolside. Although at the same time, we were also commenting on how it won't be long and we'll be able to do more of the vacationing we want to do- visiting ethnic parts of town and going to oddball festivals. But right now, we're more than content to spend our vacation time doing what our kids want to do.

Here are a couple of shots from the zoo trip. We were in luck this weekend as next weekend is the end of a dinosaur exhibit at the zoo. They had a little section of the zoo with robotic dinosaurs in natural habitats- it was very cool, and Abigail loved it. Zander... not so much. Many of the dinosaurs were scary to him. Thankfully, we did the dinos first, so he had a zoo-full of animals to take his mind off the scary dinosaurs with big teeth.

Next is a picture of the kids at the family farm standing with a fake cow. The Milwaukee Zoo has really been upgrading and revamping a lot of thier exhibits. The whole zoo is really very nice and well-done.
What would a trip to the zoo be without a few snacks here and there. Here Daddy is encouraging Zander to be Mommy's little piggy.

It was fun. And waiting at home for me was a stack of magazines- apparently this was the weekend to get most of them. The reason I mention this is that September's issue of Gourmet magazine arrived, and it's really a good one. It's their anniversary issue, and many of the recipes this time around are not as tedious as usual Gourmet fare tends to be. It's really home-cook friendly, and a majority of them look fantastic- it's definitely worth the few bucks to pick it up. Actually, to be honest, my quick perusals of September's issues of Cooking Light and Everyday Food also seem to be promising- so if you see these while you're out and about- definitely give them a look-over.

And finally. The apples are coming! Today on the way home we made a quick stop at the grocery store to pick up a few perishables, and I found Paula Red's at Woodman's in Appleton. They are the very first apples to hit the shelves in this part of the country, so that means it's officially the beginning of apple season. And of course, the very first item on the apple agenda was an apple pie. A simple classic- there is nothing that my entire family loves more than a freshly made homemade pie. So tonight we feasted on apple pie at bedtime, and it was spectacular. A fitting ending to a great weekend.

Friday, August 25, 2006

A Little Break

We're on our way out this morning. :-) We're going to spend the weekend in the beautiful city of Milwaukee. We have a day planned at the zoo, and rumor is this weekend is the Mexican and Latin Festival, so we may make our way to the Lakeshore some time as well. Mmm. Mexican street food. Anyway, I had to get in a quick post before heading out and wish everyone a nice weekend.

I'll leave you with a very delicious, very easy recipe for Caribbean chicken. The only change I made to this recipe was to add a few dashes of Pickapeppa Sauce and a bit of lime zest, but other than that, it's lip-smacking good. Perfect if you're grilling this weekend, enjoy.

Caribbean Chicken

1/2 cup pineapple juice, frozen concentrate -- thawed
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup brown sugar -- firmly packed
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons molasses
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Combine pineapple juice, lime juice, brown sugar, soy sauce, water, molasses, and red pepper in a shallow glass dish or zip lock bag until sugar is dissolved. Add chicken; cover dish or close bag.

Marinate in refrigerator up to 6 hours, turning once.

Grill chicken, covered, over medium coals, 10 to 15 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and juices run clear.

Source: "lv2cook on Recipezaar"

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Wednesday's Crock-Pot Creation?

Is that catchy? Hmm. Sounds a little cheesy and pathetic to me. Wednesday's are going to be a little different for awhile. Abigail's ballet class is from 5-6 in the evening. We usually eat dinner around 6, and with her school being a 25 minute drive away, I really can't rush home and make dinner then. Especially on school nights, it simply doesn't work to eat so late. If I were to take the kids out for dinner it would definitely be a budgetary blow over time, plus they'd miss dinner time with Daddy, and family dinner time is one that is very important to us. So the answer lies in the humble crock-pot.

Now, I'm not the biggest fan of the crock-pot. There's usually an issue of quality when the crock-pot is involved. And so often the food cooked up starts to all taste the same. However, there are so many crock pot recipes out there. Surely one a week won't kill me. And who knows, over time, we may actually find one or two that we really enjoy. I happen to have two crock-pot cookbooks. One is published by Pillsbury, and the other is the Fix It and Forget It book. I haven't had a whole lot of success with the Fix It and Forget it book. All the recipes there are from home cooks- and some of them just aren't so good. But there are a few gems- one in particular is a cranberry pork roast that I remember. Lst night, though, I turned to Pillsbury. I have had success with this book before. There's a Smothered Buttermilk Chicken that tastes like a wonderful pot pie filling, and I really like that one. So last night, Pillsbury it was.

My number one criteria was that the recipe be with on-hand ingredients. Fortunately for me, my pantry is fairly well stocked. Mys econd criteria was that it had to be a one-step recipe. I couldn't get home at 6:45 and have to make a gravy yet or finish a sauce. The recipe I ended up choosing actually helped me out, as I've been whacking away at a jumbo cabbage all week, and this used up another 2 cups of cabbage. Chicken, Sausage, and Cabbage Stew with Wild Rice actually turned out pretty good. I did need to run to the store to pick up wild rice and Italian sausage, but I thought the end results would be worth it. It wasn't bad. The kids actually picked at it a bit and ate some of it. My only problem with it was that I had used chicken breasts, and of course, those dried out a bit, despite being put in frozen. And it wasn't really stew like. More brothy than stewish. I am still thinking on this one. It was good, and worth it to repeat it sometime, but I am wondering about the cream of mushroom soup. I couldn't identify it in the final dish flvaor wise, so there's go to be a substitution.

And like many crock-pot creations are going to be, this one was not very photogenic. So I won't share a picture. However, you can find the recipe here in the Recipe Trove.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A big day in the life of a six year old

Today was almost as big a deal as the first day of kindergarten. Today was the day Abigail began ballet class. Real ballet class. She's been in love with Angelina Ballerina since she first saw her, and today she got her first taste of dance class. She loved it. Just loved it. I found an excellent dance school for her. They are extremely professional, people are driving from as far away as 60 miles to attend this school. Class was pretty intense for a first day- but it was fantastic how they wove the actual ballet steps in with having fun. Their number one goal is for the child to enjoy the class- but they also want the child to learn correctly. There were a few girls in class who obviously have been in dance before- and I confess, when class first started and I was watching Abigail it was like, "oh boy, she's got a lot of catching up to do!" But she caught on so quickly, and by the end of class today she was doing her first and second positions like a pro. Third position is a little more tricky for her, she'll have to practice a bit. She really liked doing the barre work though...

It was such a moment for Mommy. :-) As I'm sitting with Zander, watching the class, some of the other parents were busy chatting. I caught bits and pieces of different conversations. Several of them were talking about how cute so and so was, and how they are going to be just adorable at the recital. What? Is that why your child is in dance? As I watched Abigail flit and float, I knew she was learning something so valuable and wonderful. I could care less about whether she is cute or not, and what her costume is going to be for the recital. She's learning how to dance! She's learning ballet! And she loves it! That's what matters to me, and I know it's going to benefit her for forever. And so here's a picture of my beauty all set for her class today. She can't wait for next week. Tomorrow morning I'll share a bit about dinner tonight, with dance class being during the dinner hour, Wednesday night dinners are going to be changed up a bit. I'll share more about that tomorrow.

And now for something...Completely different.

In this month's issue of Gourmet magazine, something completely different caught my eye. In a section on grilling, they listed a recipe for pork chops. Except these were grilled. And breaded. Grilled, breaded pork chops. I was intrigued. Could you grill breading? That has so much potential! During those hot summer months when the kids are clamoring for some chicken strips and you have to fire up the oven... it never occurred to me to try breading on the grill. This instantly became a must try recipe.

I did make a few changes. The recipe calls for 10 slices of fresh bread, which you make into fresh bread crumbs and then toast in the oven. The whole point of this exercise was to avoid the oven, so I needed an alternative. A can of pre-made crumbs wouldn't do the trick, I needed some texture- panko was a possibility. Then a bag of Caeser style croutons caught my eye. Ah. The moment of inspiration. I took that bag and dumped it in the food processor, and made crumbs. I added the parmesan cheese and pepper, but left out the salt. I thought the combination of parmesan cheese and pre-seasoned bread crumbs would provide enough salt, and I was correct.

It worked perfectly! I did oil the grill with canola oil, as I was worried about the olive oil burning, and I would do that again. These pork chops were really good! You do need to keep a careful eye on the heat- it needs to be just so to crisp the crumbs without burning them. The flavors were great- and I do attribute that some to the croutons, so I will just use them in the future, I think. All in all, this made a very quick week-night meal. Using the croutons, it took all of 2 minutes to make the crumb mixture, maybe another 5 minutes to properly coat 4 pork chops, plus 10 minutes on the grill. That's less than 20 minutes. Delicious and quick- and so much future potential. I highly recommend them.

Grilled Breaded Pork Chops

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Look what I found!!

These are from my garden!!! We do need some rain, but I am finally picking some tomatoes. I am aware that in a few weeks I am going to be swamped- but I'm still very excited!

And as long as I'm sharing photos- I thought I'd share this picture I took of my brand new piece of Polish Pottery. I received it as a gift from Andy's Mom. She started me with this collection, and I just love it. This piece is perfect, as we don't have any kind of sauce server or gravy boat. So not only is it beautiful- it's super functional, as all my Polish Pottery is. And then the gift from my mother didn't take such a great photo. Apparantly my camera doesn't do well with tiny objects and close-ups. But here you get the general idea. This necklace belonged to my Grandma- we share birthstones, and Mom snagged this one for me from Grandma's things, so not only is it gorgeous, but I'll think of Grandma every time I wear it.

But the best gift yesterday was lunch from my little girl. She very proudly made Mommy a ham and cheese sandwich, which is her very favorite sandwich. Follow that up with an evening outside with my family, watching Andy and Abigail play soccer while I blow bubbles for Zander couldn't have been better. So thanks everyone for all the birthday wishes. And if you tried calling and I missed you, sorry. We were outside enjoying our time together. I do appreciate the thoughts though.

Questions Answered

Since I've started my grocery project, I have received several question, both IRL and by e-mail. I have also found that more local people than I thought read my blog- and it's the locals who are particularily interested in my grocery experience. So I will do my best today to answer a lot of the questions I've been getting.

1. Why are you doing the grocery project? This is actually a complex question. But I think the real answer to it is that I am trying to do my best to manage my husbands hard-earned money in a more positive manner. He works very hard, and he is well rewarded for his efforts. However, we are still paycheck to paycheck people, and in my belief, I am not honoring his hard work by spending all his income frivolously. Being one who loves to cook, it is very easy for me to be frivolous with my grocery shopping. And the worst part is that at times that frivolity leads to wastefulness. I go a little crazy with the produce, and much of it ends up spoiling before I get to use it. So while the ultimate goal of my grocery project is to reduce our money spent on food each month, it's more about being the best wife and money manager I can be for my husband, and to honor his hard work by spending our monies accordingly. So that when he needs something, I don't have to tell him he has to wait until next week. It's a work in progress, but I wholeheartedly believe that in the end, the rewards will be abundant.

**A secondary reason for reigning in the spending is also an attempt to have a well-stocked pantry. Being in the construction industry, Andy could spend some time laid off during the winter. And what I am trying to do is have a pantry stocked enough that he could be off for an entire month, and I don't need to worry about groceries other than perishables like eggs and milk.

2. Where do you shop? This is the question I've been getting a lot from people I know- sometimes I can be a little vague on my blog. Currently, I am doing almost all of my grocery shopping at Sam's, but I am supplimenting a little with Woodman's. In Appleton, they are literally across the street from each other, so I'm not going out of my way. In the past, I have found that I save the most money if I make my grocery list according to what's on sale at Copps with my key card. Then I buy ONLY the stuff at Copps that I get on sale, and then I go to Woodman's to round out my shopping list. I will still do this at holidays. Copps runs all the usual holiday foods on sale - plus free turkeys and hams, so it's a very good deal around Easter and Thanksgiving to shop there. I have found that by shopping in Appleton instead of Green Bay, I cut my grocery bill by at least 15%- and I am not kidding. All the stores in Appleton are slightly cheaper than in Green Bay. Go figure. When it's in season, I buy my produce at Wagner's Market in Black Creek- and they are bountiful now- so go while you can. I do not grocery shop at Festival Foods or Cub Foods- at Festival is because I cannot stick to my budget there- they are priced to match Copps, only they don't have a discount card. And Cub Foods it's a quality issue- they're not the cleanest store in the pack. Again though, for anyone local trying to save a bit- do your own experiment. A regular grocery cart for me at Woodman's in Green Bay will come out to about $120 at the checkout- and that doesn't include diapers. A regular grocery cart at Woodman's in Appleton is always under $100- that's a huge difference!

3. Do you have to shop at Sam's? Yes. In my little part of the world, Sam's is the only choice for bulk shopping. It is entirely possible that if there were a Costco or BJ's here, I would shop there, but I don't, so I need to go with what is best to reach my goals in question #1. And someday if you'd like to get in an arguement about how I'm supporting big bad evil, knock yourself out, but I am very knowledgable in that area and I will forever cherish Starbucks Cafe' Mocha's and the American Entrepreneurial spirit. All I will say here is that why is it that an entrepreneur comes up with a successful business model, and then, after it's successful, it starts getting knocked down by other people. Grow up. Sour grapes that you didn't think of it first.

4. Why aren't you cooking as much? *Sigh* For that, I am sorry, it's been summery, and to be honest, I've just not been in the mood much. Andy has been working late nights most of the summer, so it's hard for me to get the motivation to cook a real meal for myself and the kids- to be reheated later for Andy. And then on Friday thru Sunday, we're having such a great time as a family, that I don't want to tear myself away to spend some time in the kitchen. Plus, Abigail has taken more of an interest in her food as of late, and it seems that our persistance is paying off with our two-bite rule. She's been eating really well, and part of me is afraid to mess that up by preparing something exotic to her palate. Be assured that I have a renewed interest though since it's cooling down, so stay tuned, there is more coming.

5. Where do you get most of your recipes? This goes in streaks. Sometimes I will cook a lot from cookbooks, sometimes a lot from magazines. Lately I've been trying out recipes that I've found on Recipe-Zaar, and for the most part, they're pretty good. Definitely check out that website when you get a chance. It's changed recently- and the slick new design is very nice. Magazines that I recieve are Cooking Light, Eating Well, Vegetarian Times, Gourmet, and Everyday Food.

6. Are you going vegetarian? Lol. No. But I do enjoy good vegetarian cooking. I do want to implement more veg meals into my repertoir, as I think it's very healthy to do so. What I don't enjoy is soy products- except for Gardenburgers- those are pretty good. But no, even though I went through several periods in my life where I didn't enjoy eating meat, I happily do so now.

Any other questions? Feel free to e-mail or leave a comment, and I will answer it as best as I can. Later today I have something new planned for dinner- so hoepfully I will get back to post it. As to the kiwi project yesterday... I made a Kiwi Quick Bread and it was terrible. I tasted it a few times to make sure it was as awful as I thought it was, oh blech. And it really wasn't operator error. So how it got 12 5-star ratings on Recipe-Zaar, I'll never know. Taste is all subjective.

Monday, August 21, 2006

I love Birthdays

My kids birthdays, that is. :-) Yesterday Abigail woke us up nice and early, so excited for her birthday. And our great intentions of letting her open one gift and then waiting until after church for the rest, quickly went out the window. Of course, we didn't realize that our newly crowned six year old would blitz through that wrapping in the blink of an eye. Overall though, she was thrilled with her gifts. Although somehow Zander has become quite attached to her purple hippo in a purse, so we are on the hunt for a hippo for him- sans the purse. We had a pretty relaxing day with the birthday girl. Later we headed over to my parents house where Abigail had requested spending her birthday dinner and cake time. She had a blast playing with her cousin Kara, and who knew that Grandpa's gift of binoculars would win favorite status.

Andy made a simple dinner of ribs on the grill, and while I did appreciate not having to bake yesterday, it nearly broke my heart when my beautiful daughter requested a Princess birthday cake from Sam's. At least they do make good cake. And we all know how much I love to eat cake... unfortunately for me, there is well over half her cake left. Andy will be taking some to work in his lunch, that's for certain. But the true sign of a great birthday for Abigail was last night when she looked at me, tears welling up, "Mommy, I wish my birthday could last forever." So I assured her that today would be spent enjoying her plunder.

And so today... it is my turn. My last birthday ever. This morning I woke up another year older, and just one year shy of 30. Scary. And of course, what birthday would be complete without a cold. I don't feel so hot this morning. Runny nose, sneezy, slight sore throat, and a tightness in my chest. Isn't that exciting!!! All I really want right now is to curl up on the couch with a good movie, a cup of tea, and some comfort food- cheesy grits come to mind immediately. But a promise is a promise, and I have a day fully planned for me, and it looks like we are starting with some Princess crafts. And if I can break away for a minute, I have a dozen kiwi that are ripening quickly, and are screaming to have something done with them. And what is that? You'll see... I hope.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

It's a Great Day!!!!

Happy Birthday to Abigail!!!!!

Today my princess is 6 years old!! It's amazing how time flies. Just 6 years ago she was a new wonder and the most priceless thing on the planet... now she is a big 6 year old, ready to start first grade. And she's still one of the most priceless things on the planet- she has to share the priceless honor with her brother now. Today should be a wonderful day for her as we celebrate with the people she loves most in the whole world. Happy birthday sweetheart! I love you the best!!

Friday, August 18, 2006

An apology...sort of.

Sometimes I think I forget who reads my blog. And sometimes I forget why I write my blog. Of course, sometimes I'm not entirely sure why I write my blog. It can be a chore sometimes coming up with just a little something to keep it current. But I think the core, the real reason why I write my blog is because deep down, I am a writer. I may not be a practised writer, but ever since I learned to form words, I have had a love affair with the written word. Whether that be writing or reading, I love words. I remember being 13 years old and sending away a test for a correspondance writing course. And amazingly, I passed the test, and they wanted me... only I needed to be at least 16. So the course went to the backseat until a few years later. Eventually, over time, I managed to finish all but the last lesson. At that time I went to college, and my passion for writing became a passion for the real world- or so I thought at the time.

Erika- you write? I never knew that! Ah, yes. But writing is very much one of those arts- like singing- that you lose over time. You need to practice it to maintain any semblance of continuity. To maintain your verbage and prose. When I left work to have Abigail, I told everyone that I was going to concentrate on writing again as a stay-at-home Mom. I wanted to write children's stories and a novel. Lol. What was I thinking? Stay at home with baby time clearly is not time for pursuing a career in the english language. And as my time with Abigail took over every aspect of my life, I even stepped back from the simple art of reading. After long days and nights with her, I wanted nothing more than to veg out with the TV or a movie. And literally, after a few years of not reading or writing more than simple e-mails, my brain became sludge. My vocabulary became simpler- and one day I realized that and began reading again. And then one day I discovered that maybe I could write again- and blogging became that platform. Faithful readers can see that I have a long way to go yet, but I am getting back into the practice and expanding my horizons.

And all that was to say that at sometimes, I forget who I am writing for, and I get caught up in the latest "foodism" or foodie controversy. I keep dabbling with the thought of approaching my local newspaper about doing some food writing for them. In this case, the other day it was my product review for Kraft cheese. I still don't know how I feel about that. I was thrilled at the time of the review- but I still maintain that I think my opinion was slightly biased by the free-ness of the product. I do want clear up something though. I don't have anything against Kraft foods, per se. It was my fault I reviewed the product, and I am certainly not going to be the only blogger to do so. I don't have a problem with mass-produced food, or the large retailers who distribute the products. Someone sent me a great e-mail this morning in favor of the large producers- and I couldn't agree more. Those large producers and retailers are what keep this country moving. They keep food and prices affordable- so that people can eat. Not everyone is as fortunate as we are to be able to eat what we like, when we like. There are people for whom Kraft Macaroni and Cheese is a true feast. And if places like the big box retailer didn't keep them affordable- these people would starve. You can do your own simple research there. If you go to a high end grocer and look at their packaged macaroni and cheese, you will find the same sized box, with the same amount of servings at the rediculously high prices of 3-5 dollars. Go to a discount retailer, and you can find the familiar blue box for as little as 69 cents. Most people simply can't afford to feed their family the "upper crust" way. And really- it all tastes the same anyway, so why would you.

This all reminds me of the huge surgeance right now for "eat local". And while I agree somewhat- I am living it high at the farmer's markets right now, it doesn't make sense all the time. It certainly doesn't make sense for much of the country. If we "ate local" exclusively, what would we be eating come January and February? Lots of beef, I suspect, and little else. I am a huge fan of Anthony Bourdain, and his show No Reservations. recetly he went on a trip to Peru and went to a local farm for a day. He was amazed at how much work these people went through to go bring in a meager 4 dollars a day- and they lived like that every day! If I did not purchase potatoes out of season that have been shipped in from people inPeru, these people would lose my dollar. I would not be helping the poor families in Thailand and India if I only bought rice from this country. Eat local just doesn' make sense globally, and quite honestly, for the most part, I don't care where my food comes from. I just care that it looks and feels fresh and that it tastes good.

I guess I'm not in the upper echelon of food snobbery, and I'm going to try real hard to not appear to be in the future. Yes, I am a food snob of sorts. I don't like boxed food and mixes for the most part. And I am a huge fan of cooking from scratch. I'm good at it, and I enjoy it, and my family enjoys it. I don't eat sub-par food. Even in the lean times- I do know how to make a great pot of soup and feed my family very affordably, and that's what I care about. Feeding my family well, and raising my children to know that there's more to food than Hamburger Helper and Sara Lee.

And with that, I am going to go do my grocery shopping for the week.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


So I left off with a teaser yesterday about going grocery shopping today, and we never got there. So maybe tomorrow... Instead today we went to pick up Abigail's outfit for ballet class and then on to some school clothes shopping. Gotta love that. Abigail loves trying on clothes. But have you ladies seen the clothes this fall? The clothes for women, I mean. They're beautiful! This is the year of the woman! The lines and styles are soft and feminine. They cover instead of reveal, and they're very attractive. The colors are deep and vibrant- slightly earthy, but more feminine than the ugly tans and browns we've been seeing all summer. The dresses have a very nice flow to them, and I had a really hard time staying out of the ladies departments today. Conversely though- what is up with the little girls clothes this fall? Um, hello, little girls in cowboy attire is not cute. It's not attractive, and yuck! (Especially the cowboy meets the ghetto look going on...) Make it all go away! And the army fatigues in girls colors can go away too. Apparantly I'm going to have a hard time dressing my little girl like a little girl this year. This fall's color palate has such potential, and they put it on cowboy boots and metallic mocassins.

Additionally, I am back-to-school shopping. Why on Earth would the salesgirl try to up-sell me with a butt-ugly cowboy hat? What school allows their students to wear hats as a part of a daily wardrobe? Same thing goes with the matching purses.

At least we have ballet class to be pretty in pink...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Sharing the Bounty

This coming Sunday is Abigail's 6th birthday. And today kind of kicked off birthday week for us. Today the kids and I had planned to go to the zoo with my SIL Jenn and my neice Kara. Well, that turned into an invite for Grandma, which turned into an invite to Rachel and then another invite to the newlyweds. So it was a real party traipsing around the zoo. It was really fun! Zander and Abigail just loved feeding the giraffes and the goats. And they got to pet a zebu, and see the brand new zoo train in action. We took a break for some picnicing, and then it was back to work exploring the animals and making sure every piece of playground equipment got its turn. And I am exhausted. Running all over the zoo is exercise anyway, but somehow I ended up spending a good deal of time carrying Zander after he lost his pep. So I got a good workout today.

Food wise I also did very well today. Part of that was in thanks to Jenn, who showed up with a huge tote full of fresh vegetables from her garden. I made a comment later that I didn't need to go to the farmer's market today because the farmer's market came to me. Indeed it did! I got a pair of zucchini- one for eating, one for baking, a couple of ready to eat tomatoes, some sweet banana peppers, a pair of acorn squash, and a very special bowl of yellow cherry tomatoes. I put every single one of those vegetables to work for dinner tonight. I had planned beef kabobs, but had no plan for side dishes. Turned out the side dishes starred.

Here I made a salad with some bocconcini I had in the fridge that were getting close to their expiration date. I quartered a large red tomato that was exceptionally sweet, added a good cup or so of the yellow cherry tomatoes- halved, and then sliced up 3 of the sweet banana peppers. I tossed the veggies and the cheese with a quick red wine and dill vinaigrette, and had a fantastic salad. The acorn squash were baked and smashed with some butter, and the zucchini took a turn on the grill next to the beef kabobs. So thank you Jenn! That was a fantastic dinner, and I certainly got a great dose of my vegetables for today.

And speaking of the beef kabobs- they didn't turn out the best. I used a sirloin tip roast that I cubed up, and I didn't realize that was a tough cut of meat. So next time the roast gets a slow cook in the oven. But I did take the opportunity to take some different looking skewers for a serious trial on the grill. They are circular, and they are metal skewers. The benefit of the metal is that it is conductive, so the meat cooks internally as well. The benefit of the round is that the meat or veggies aren't falling off the ends. The drawback is that only about 8 of them will fit on our grill at once- so they may not be ideal for a large crowd, but they are fun to use. I picked them up at Target last year on clearance- and they were definitely a good bargain buy.

Up for tomorrow... another week of grocery shopping. How will I do this week? Come back and find out tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Okay, now I'm just annoyed.

If you scroll down my page here, you will find a product review for Kraft's new Grate-It-Fresh cheese. And if I do say so myself, I think I wrote a very nice and well-thought out review. And in this age of people who either cook alot or don't cook at all, I sincerely thought that this might be one of those products that get the people who don't cook thinking outside the box. That maybe instead of reaching for that yucky powdered cheese, they'd reach for this easy to use grater instead., and find out that real cheese does taste better.

And in all honesty, the e-mail I received from the "summer intern" at Kraft was very nice and forthcoming. And he truly did not ask for a "free promotion" from me on my blog. I did reply to him that I would love to try his product, and sure enough, a few days later I had the new product in hand.

I feel like I've been duped. Check out this post on Accidental Hedonist. That e-mail she received was almost verbatim to the one I recieved, minus the first name. And if you read further into the comments, you will see that she and I are not alone in this product offering. So now I feel as if I have been scammed into offering up a free product review. There has been so much debate lately amongst food bloggers about product reviews. Whether we should do them, whether we should accept freebies, and whether or not product reviews could be classified as advertising. As I am writing this, I think I am just getting angry. Partly at Mr. Really Nice Summer Intern who probably works in the marketing department. And partly at myself for falling for it and giving up the free advertising space.


From this point on, product reviews will only be conducted by me if I have purchased said product. Meaning that I will go to the store and pay from my own pocket for the product. That way I have a vested interest in whether or not I truly enjoy a product. Do I really like the Kraft cheese? Yes, I think it's a great product for some people- and I think Kraft will be very successful with it. But I guess the true question is whether or not I will buy it again. And in that, I can honestly say that I am not sure. I don't have that buying decision to make yet, it's not available here until next January. So I will make that call then.

Until then, no more marketing spam for me, thank you very much. I am embarassed that my Marketing education did not sniff this one out.

Oh, and for those who have requested that I pass on your info to this guy...sorry, I am not going to contribute any further to the product promotion.

Zucchini Bread

Today as I was baking up some zucchini bread, I was thinking about this poetic post I was going to do today. Sort of an "ode to zucchini bread." Anyone who reads my blog knows about my penchance for quick breads. LOVE THEM. There is nothing on the planet that makes my heart sing like a good quick bread (or a piece of cake-closely related).

Anyway, I am still working away at the monster zucchini I picked up, and thought tha
t today would be perfect for baking some zucchini breads. So I made up a pair of loaves of my chocolate chip zucchini bread, and am now baking up some chocolate zucchini breads. My house smells fantastic. I still have enough zucchini for at least one more loaf, and of course I have run out of flour. I've already been to the store once today, so I guess I'm just going to call it a day for baking breads. Maybe tomorrow. I also found a couple of very interesting new quick breads to give a try, so stay tuned for those, maybe in the next few days I'll get those done too.

The chocolate zucchini bread recipe is on this
old blog post. But I'll also get it into the Recipe Trove today. And here is the recipe for Mom's Zucchini Bread.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Kudos to Little Sis

At my sister Lizzie's wedding just over a week ago, my other little sister Rachel made the wedding cake. Here's a picture of Rachel's triumph.

Isn't it pretty? She did a fantastic job- and it tasted really good too! She made a dark-chocolate raspberry cake with a whipped cream frosting. I'd share the recipe with you, but I think she should enter it into a contest, so no recipe sharing from me.

Here's a close-up of the top layer. I really likes the random squiggles. It's amazing how it really made the layer look professional and beautiful. Unfortunately, right now I don't have a picture of the cake at the reception site. We had it at the park, anf of course, once the cake was out, the bees and flys wouldn't stay away. So one of my Sister-In-Laws thought it would be a good idea to "cover" the cake with some tulle to keep the bugs out. And not only was it effective- it really made for a stunning presentation of an outdoor wedding cake. Rachel, you could go into business in Ellendale. I bet there aren't many places to order a wedding cake from out there, and I know a couple of reliable mail-order sources for the "assembly pieces". Keep that in mind huh? :-)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Zucchini Fritters

These were shared on the Cooking Light bulletin board recently, and they certainly caught my attention. I bought a monster zucchini at the farmstand this past week to use for zucchini bread and whatever else caught my fancy. These were perfect with a little marinara for dunking. The change I made was to leave out the mint- not being a mint fan. The only improvement I can see making is to add a tiny bit of lemon zest, but otherwise, a keeper. Thanks JeAnne!

Zucchini Fritters
Taverna Cookbook

2 lb small zucchini, coarsely grated
1/2 lb feta cheese, or equal parts feta and kasseri or ricotta (used reduced fat feta)
6 green onions, minced
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill ( I used 1 teaspoon dried)
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint (left out)
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup all-purpose flour
Freshly ground pepper
Peanut oil for frying (used EVOO)

Place the zucchini in a sieve or colander, salt it lightly and toss to mix. Let stand for 30 minutes to draw out the excess moisture. Using a kitchen towel, squeeze the zucchini dry and place it in a bowl.

Crumble the cheese over the zucchini and add the green onions, dill, mint, parsley, eggs, flour and salt and pepper to taste. Stir to mix well.

In a deep frying pan over medium-high heat, pour in the peanut oil to a depth of 1/4 inch. When the oil is hot, using a serving spoon, drop spoonfuls of the batter into the oil, being careful not to crowd the pan. Fry, turning once, until nicely browned on both sides, 2-3 minutes per side. Using a slotted spoon or spatula, transfer the fritters to paper towels to drain. Keep warm until all the fritters are cooked.Arrange the fritters on a warmed platter and serve hot.

Nutrition Facts
Serves 8 as an appetizer, 4 as a side dish
Facts per Serving Calories: 200 Fat: 9g Carbohydrates: 20g Cholesterol: 105mg Sodium: 354mg Protein: 10g Fiber: 3g % Cal. from Fat: 40% % Cal. from Carbs: 40%

BBQ Sauce

The other night when Andy smoked up his pork, I thought that I needed to find a new barbecue sauce. Standard commercial barbecue sauces are just too sweet for my taste. They also don't allow the barbecue sauce to suffuciently permeate the meat. They are cloying and extra thick- possibly great for dipping or a final coat, but definitely not for a slow cooking process. My regular homemade BBQ sauce is ketchup based, and can be found in Joy of Cooking. What I really like about it is the inclusion of lemon. It adds a fantastic tang to the sauce, and everyone really likes it. I usually use the slices of half a lemon, as well as the juice from the other half. I've also changed it up by using lime, and adding a tablespoon of Pickapeppa sauce to give it a slight Caribbean flavor.

Joy of Cooking Barbecue Sauce

1 1/2 cups ketchup
1 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons dry mustard
4 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 minced garlic cloves
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 slices lemons

Over medium heat stir all of the ingredients together.

But I needed some Carolina style sauce. A BBQ sauce that was mustard and vinegar based- not sweet with ketchup, molasses, honey, etc. So I spent a bit of time hunting one down- and I do believe I found a good one on Recipezaar. The only change I would make is that I found it to be a little thicker than what I was looking for. By the time it finished simmering, it was pretty thick. The next time after it's simmered I plan to add another 1/4-1/2 cup of cider vinegar to dilute it a bit. I also did not use a full tablespoon of liquid smoke. That is a lot, and Andy was already smoking the pork, so I cut that down to 1/4 teaspoon, and while I thought it was good, Andy thought it could use a little more liquid smoke. Oh, I also used Pecan smoke instead of Hickory.

Big Daddy's Carolina Style Barbecue Sauce #120492
recipe by Rita L

1 cup prepared yellow mustard
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon liquid smoke(hickory flavoring)

Mix all except soy, butter and smoke. Simmer 30 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients and simmer for 10 more minutes. Vinegar taste may be very strong until completely cooled. Refrigerating overnight is best and allows flavors to blend.
Add a few drops of Louisiana Hot Sauce at the end if additional heat is desired.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

That for which there is no excuse

I'm still reflecting on last night's Razz-Ma-Tazz bars. They made an excellent breakfast, and are just as good today as they were yeterday. Unable to sleep this morning, I was up long before the rest of my family and spent a bit of time online looking for other sensational bar recipes. How could you not love a good bar cookie recipe? One pan, one recipe, and easily 2 dozen little bites to enjoy. While I do love a good cookie, bar cookies are something special in my opinion. So this morning I copied and pasted about 20 different bar cookie recipes into my Mastercook and I was casually wondering when I would get around to trying them all. Then I thought that it was a shame there wasn't a bake sale coming up where I could make 3 or 4 different kinds at once.

The bake sale. Where have they gone? Sadly, they have gone the way of homemade goodies, I think. And why is that? I fondly recall going to bake sales and looking at tables and tables of lovingly prepared goodies. Those luscious homemade cinnamon rolls and quick breads and mounds of cookies galore. Gradually as the years passed by, those homemade bites of goodness made way for goodies prepared from a mix, and most recently, I've even seen bake sale goodies bought from a bakery and repackaged. That is a true shame.

And why is it that so many times a cookie bought from a bake sale or sampled at a potluck tastes like cardboard at best? Come on people. Following a recipe is not brain surgery. I have chatted many times with my Mother-In-Law about this very phenomenon. She is also in disbelief that there are so many people who claim they can't cook. There have been many discussions just this year about recipes and how they are being written more simply so that anyone can follow them. I can't tell you how many times I've been asked "where did you learn to cook so well?" And while I can honestly say that I learned a lot about the basics of cooking from my Mom. The main reason why I think I can cook so well is because I know how to read. As basic as that. I can read a list of ingredients, and then follow the directions correctly through to the end. Anyone can read a recipe! What I say to some is quit claiming you can't cook and trying to pass off those bars made from a box as your own. Pick up a cookbook and follow a recipe or two. You will be successful. You will eat much better, your family will eat much better, and your mystery meat dish won't be the most feared thing at a potluck.

Friday, August 11, 2006

An Excellent Date Night

So Andy and I have been accused more than once of not having enough date nights. So tonight we did something a little different to change up our usual evening routine. We invited another family over for dinner- our idea of a perfect date night. And we could not have had a better evening. Andy spent a great part of today working on something a little special- smoking a pork butt. And we simply had to share. So our friends came over and we had a great catching up time. We've been so busy lately, it seems like we've been negelecting the ones we love. And of course, with great food and great friends, what more could you need? Andy's pork butt turned out fantastic. Our kids played with our friends' kids and we were able to spend a great deal of time visiting. And then later on our neighbors came by and somehow we all ended up in their backyard for a bonfire. It couldn't have gone better if we'd planned every little detail. It was an evening that you hate to have end. But children do need their beauty rest, so the evening had to draw to a close at some point.

Here are a few pictures of Andy's pork on the grill. Mmmm...

And of course, what would dinner be without dessert. I saw this recipe on Cookie Madness last week and I've been thinking about it ever since. It isn't very often that one specific recipe calls to me- but this one certainly did. Razz Ma Tazz bars are FANTASTIC. Oh my are they good- and I even overbaked them a bit, so I can't imagine how wonderful they would be baked properly. And I must apologize, because my picture doesn't really do them justice. But trust me. These bars are so worth the calories. I will get the recipe in the trove shortly, but in the meantime you can find the original recipe here on this website. I did use plain seeded raspberry jam, and didn't find the seeds to be too much, so if you don't have seedless, go for the seeded, they'll be fine. I also doubled the recipe and had a little trouble with the make sure you adjust accordingly. Be sure and follow the directions specifically- they are a little different proceduraly, but well worth it.

That's all for tonight. Us big girls need our beauty sleep too. :-) I'm not sure what we have on tap for tomorrow... but I'm on a roll with keeping up the posting, so I'll try to come up with a little something.

The Milk Test

Living in the dairy state, I feel that our milk here is pretty good. When traveling or living in other states, I have found the milk to be lacking. Recently though, I've become very curious of the different milks available- even here in Wisconsin. Most interesting to me has been the Organic milks. Our standard milk purchase is a one gallon plastic jug of 1% milk- usually store brand. That gallon of milk costs me about $2.00 right now. And we will go through a gallon of milk in 4 to 5 days, depending on whether or not I do any baking. As a comparison, Organic Valley 1% lowfat milk half gallon carton costs $3.86. So if I wanted a gallon of Organic Valley, we're talking about almost $8.00 for the same amount of milk. That's a huge difference.

Yesterday my curiosity got the better of me. In addition to our regular gallon of milk, I added a half gallon of Organic Valley, thinking that at the very least I need to try it. So this morning I very unscientifically poured myself two glasses of milk- one from each and proceeded to taste. The store brand mik was good, our usual milk. Then I tasted the Organic Valley. And I needed to double check the carton. Surely I had made a mistake and bought whole milk- or at the very least 2%. Nope. The carton was 1% lowfat milk. What a difference! There is this fantastic depth of flavor to the milk. I very happily finished that glass of milk.

Now it could be that the different forms of packaging had something to do with flavor...but I kind of doubt that. I really liked the flavor in the Organic Valley milk. I am seriously thinking of adding that to my regular purchases. I don't drink enough milk- I know that. But this stuff is tasty! I am planning that next week I will pick up a carton of the Skim milk and see how that stuff is. Less fat could always be better- but I usually can't stand the flavor (or lack of) in skim milk.

So is organic really better? That's totally up to you, but in this case, for myself and my milk drinking, I can tell you that Organic is better. Is it worth the extra money though? The jury is still deliberating. I have other milks to try from local dairies, so the testing isn't over. And I will share more as I learn more. If you're looking for some interesting reading, try I really enjoyed reading about their farmers- especially the local ones to me. Check it out- you may just learn something.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The grocery challenge


Obviously, this is going to be an ongoing process. Today I did the bulk of my grocery shopping at Sam's Club. I had the intentions of exclusively shopping there...but that just didn't work out well. There were things that I would look at the massive package and think, it would take way too long to use that up. Or there were things that were not available at Sam's. I am particular about my coffee, and Sam's doesn't have the one we like. They also didn't have Andy's Silk Creamer, so right there I needed to stop at the regular store. Then I got to the jumbo bottles of olive oil. I swear that price has really multiplied since I last bought a jug. I just couldn't see paying $20 up front for all that oil. But I did do very well in the meat department and the canned goods. I did overspend, but I was also shopping for a food drive, so I figured I could buy the larger boxes of canned goods, send half with the food drive and put half in my pantry. In addition, I splurged on a new vacuum, so let me assure you, there was plenty of sticker shock when I checked out. Yikes. I have to keep telling myself that I may have spent xxx this week (double my usual) but that the food I purchased today will last for several weeks. I do think it's going to take a few of these Yikes shopping trips to adequately fill my pantry, and then I can think on a week to week basis. Overall, even though I spent much more than expected, I think I am well on my way. This will really be helpful for this winter when Andy could have as much as 3 months off of work.

I also stopped at our farmstand. I love that place. (Wagner's in Black Creek for you locals). I picked up a ton of fresh vegetables for less than $20. I am debating going back and picking up a half bushel of pickling cucumbers. I really want to make pickles, but that quantity will commit me to an entire day of canning...maybe I will hold off until Monday. And who knows, by then they may have even more variety and I can pickle some other vegetables in addition to the cucumber pickles.

Okay just one quick proud Mommy moment today before I go try out my new vacuum. Yesterday we took Abigail to meet her 1st grade teacher- and let me say right away, LOVE HER. She is young and hip and so excited to be teaching. Abigail is going to have plenty of fun in her class. Abigail had to read to her new teacher, plus take a computer test to find out how she does with comprehension. Last spring she left school at a Level G (whatever that means) and yesterday her teacher was confident that she is reading at an advanced K to L level. I have no clue what those letters mean, but she is very advanced for a 1st grader. If they have a few more advanced kids in her class, she will have an enrichment group in class for advanced reading. Otherwise Abigail will probably have to join another class for reading time. How exciting! Abigail really can't wait. Her best friend is in her new class (hooray!) and the people we didn't want in her class aren't- so it's going to be a great year. It's going to be a long few weeks for Abigail. She is ready to go. Now I just have to convince Zander that 3 years isn't that long until he gets to go to school, he'd happily accompany his sister every day if I let him.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Product Review Time

One of the things I've wanted to do more of with my blog is product reviewing. Like I've mentioned before, I am a sucker for the newest and latest. I like to be the one who first discovers the latest thing in yogurt or the new gizmo from Pampered Chef. This would be why I got very excited a week or so ago when I received a very nice e-mail from a young man at Kraft foods. He explained that he was a summer intern helping with a new product, and would I be interested in trying it out and providing him some feedback. Whoopee! Sign me up. No strings, no demands for me to promote the product, strictly a feedback opportunity. I looked forward to recieving the product and giving it a fair trial in my kitchen. What I really didn't expect though, was the results from my testing.

And so I am here today to share about this innovative new product from Kraft Foods, Kraft Grate-It-Fresh Parmesan Cheese. I confess, that I didn't expect that I would like using this Parmesan Cheese. I mean, it's a cousin of that green can... but the concept really intrugued me. What you see here is a block of real parmesan cheese snugly packaged in a sturdy plastic container. The green base contains the grater and there is a spindle running up the middle of the block of cheese to hold it in place. Eager to give it a taste test, I removed the clear plastic cover to the base and gave the can a twist. Immediately cheese began sprinkling my counter. So I grabbed a small bowl, and effortlessly gave the can a few twists. First, I grabbed a pinch of the cheese shreds. The were soft, pliable- definitely fresh cheese. The taste was pleasant and salty- just the way a parmesan should be.

Dinner plans immediately changed. I wanted to make pasta and give this contraption to my kids- surely they would struggle with the twisting. Abigail took her turn first, and really enjoyed putting fresh cheese on her pasta. She didn't have any problems twisting the container, and really was enamored with the thing. Zander had a few more troubles, but his 2 year old hands just couldn't grip the container. So I held the base for him while he twisted the can. He thought that was great! And Zander LOVES sprinkle cheese on his pasta. My next thought was that surely after a bit of use, the cheese would seize up a bit on the grater. Nope. Not yet anyway. The cheese consistently grates and falls onto the food. Occasionally I did need to use my fingers to pull at the long dangly shreds still attached- but they fell right off with a quick brush.

I admit that I'm having a hard time coming up with anything negative to say about this Grate-It-Fresh Cheese. It's almost one of those "duh, why didn't anyone think of this sooner" products. Usually when I am in need of parmesan cheese, I have a choice at the store. I either reach for a tub of pre-shredded cheese, or I grab a block to grate fresh with my microplane. Now, I love my microplane. Love it. But this is all inclusive! The cheese is stored in this container, there is no messing with plastic wrap or vacuum sealing with each use. And there's nothing to wash. People who are maybe used to the shelf-stable Kraft Parmesan Cheese may have to get used to that fresh cheese taste. But overall, this gets a huge thumbs up from me. It may not compare to a true Parmesano-Reggiano, but like I can afford that in my kitchen anyway.

On the product sheet sent to me by Kraft, it states that the Grate-It-Fresh is available on the East Coast now, and will be available nationwide in January. It's a 7 oz. package, and will retail for $4.99- very reasonable for a block of parmesan cheese. And because it is refrigerated, it will be found in the dairy case. All I can say is hurry up Kraft! This is a great product and I will certainly buy it. The only improvement I can honestly say is that it would be great if other cheeses were available like this- specifically Romano and Asiago.

In the interest of full disclosure, I did receive the sample product for free from Kraft. But no where did I agree to advertise for them or review this product on my blog. I do this wholeheartedly from my own free will. As I would with any product I review on here. If you think you might be interested in giving this a try, let me know and I can share your name with the intern at Kraft, and see if he can't send you a sample as well. I am thrilled that he asked for my input, and would do so again in a heartbeat.

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Pancakes Pancakes

I love pancakes. When I was pregnant, I had pancake craving like you wouldn't believe. Mostly banana pancakes with chocolate chips, but plain pancakes with syrup are great too. Or pancakes with berries of some kind. I've tried many recipes for pancakes, and occasionally I'll find a specific one that I will enjoy, but I always find myself going back to good ole reliable. And this post is only one of many of the basics that I have been trying to get up lately for the benefit of my just married sister who burns water. :-o

There are two keys to perfect pancakes. One is to not overmix the batter. The second key is to only flip them once during cooking. Other than that, the beauty of pancakes is that you can put anything in them. Our two household favorites are blueberry pancakes and chocolate chip pancakes (mini chips work best here). But really, anything goes for us. Any fruits, any nuts, any additives really. We've gone as extreme as candy bits and M&M's and as boring as plain with butter and maple syrup.

And truly, I tell you, pancakes can be had at any time. They make a great breakfast, but they also make fantastic snacks and a great dinner with a side of sausage. There is also no reason why you need to use a mix. I promise you, great pancakes can be had without the aid of a package. And I have the recipe here for you in the Recipe Trove. Enjoy.

Month Long Grocery List....Pfft.

I think I'm going about this grocery list the wrong way. I started with my Mastercook calendar. I was filling in days with different meals, trying to get a good variety in each week- and also including days where I would make double of a meal to stash in the freezer. But as I got going with the calendar, it occurred to me that even when I assign certain meals over a period of a week, I hardly stick to my plan. So then I switched to a piece of notebook paper. My intentions were to list 30 dinners to pick and choose from. And I did manage to list 30 complete dinners. But that doesn't seem right to me either. If I were to have everything on hand for all 30 dinners...well, that would be one expensive outlay up front, and I think it would also generate a lot of waste.

I don't have a time constraint budgetarily. Andy gets paid every week- the only constraint is when certain paychecks are spoken for, I have a little less for the weekly grocery trip. So. There is an answer here somewhere. And I think, unfortunately for me, the answer is not to put all this thought and work into one list on one day. I think it means I have to be super organized. Here's my new plan. I am going to make a meal plan for one week, as well as the according shopping list. On Thursday I will shop for said groceries at 2 places- Sam's Club and the produce stand. Once I get home from my trip I will need to portion the bulk items out, and the excess will go into my kitchen annex (our new fancy term for the basement with shelving, extra fridge, and freezer.) My week will go as planned, with a list of 7 possible dinners, and I pick and choose what I am in the mood for each day. Then next week I make a new meal plan for the next 7 days. In that meal plan I include as much of the items as possible that I have stored in the kitchen annex. And each week revolves from there. On the weeks where we don't have so many bills to pay or a payment due, I utilize some extra funds to pick up staples and pantry goods. Make sense? Maybe you could explain it to me better. ;-) Now on to breakfast...

Monday, August 7, 2006

Fried Green Tomatoes

Last week it was suggested that I turn some of my green tomatoes into fried green tomatoes. Never one to back away from a challenge, I decided today was the day. I've never eaten fried green tomatoes, let alone made them. So I searched on the internet and found many, many variations. But the core of fried green tomatoes was some kind of seasoned cornmeal crust. I chose to turn to an expert on southern cuisine, Southern Living. Here is a link to their recipe for fried green tomatoes. I made two changes to their recipe. One was to add a healthy sprinkle of cayenne to the breading (it still wasn't enough) and the second was to eliminate the frying in oil in favor of unhealthy shortening. To me, it seemed that if I was going to have the real deal, I needed to use either shortening or lard. I just cannot do lard, so shortening it was.

And the result? I do believe I am quite fond of fried green tomatoes. :-) The breading was perfect, and the whole entity was...well...pretty darn tasty. The coating crunched up beautifully, and inside the coating the green tomato practically melted, and was full of flavor and a wonderful tang. They really are very good. In fact, they are even good at room temperature. I will likely not make them again for awhile, because I'm trying so hard to be patient with my tomatoes getting ripened. But you can be sure that when that frost warning comes, and there are green tomatoes on the vine, I will be serving up fried green tomatoes for a meal or two. I'm also trying to decide if fried green tomatoes would be good with a fried egg and bacon. ;-) That will be for another post I think.

Monday Morning.

So today is Monday. Monday, Monday. The wedding festivities are officially over. And we have no concrete plans whatsoever. Since the beginning of the year we've had one event after another, and for the first time, we have our eye on nothing. :-) Wednesday I take Abigail in to meet her teacher and have her reading assessed, and school starts one month from yesterday. But other than that...? We're trying to figure out what we want to do yet this summer before it is over.

But my thoughts are turning more towards food. I swear I have spent most of this summer in a fog, not really planning ahead, and not paying much attention to what we are eating. Now I promised that today my new resolve would take effect, and in a sense it will. I have every intention to sit down with a handful of cookbooks, magazines, and notebooks and plan out a month's worth of menus. One month's worth of dinner plans, and then one month's worth of lunches. I am fascinated by the concept of Once A Month Cooking. By the concept, that is. I do think of myself as a food snob. I like my food fresh. I think that's why I don't care very much for leftovers- because it's not freshly prepared. But there isn't any reason why I can't think ahead more. If I'm making enchiladas for dinner, what's to stop me from making two pans of enchiladas and popping one in the freezer for a few weeks later. What I'm essentially trying to do is rid myself of the frozen pizza and mac&cheese nights that seem to have invaded my kitchen. They've been occurring quite frequently, and they need to go away.

In addition to planning better, I still need to trim my gorcery budget. I've been trying to do that since January... and I'm doing a terrible job. I have learned that in order to save the most money in a shopping trip that I need to plan according to the sale flyer of one store, and then pick up the staples at another store. But that's a long and annoying shopping trip. One variable that I have not applied before is that of the whoelsale club. So for the next few weeks, I am going to attempt as much as possible to do most of my grocery shopping at Sam's Club. That is why I need to do a month's worth of planning. If I want to buy pork tenderloin at Sam's, I'm going to have to buy 4 tenderloins- enough for 4 meals for our family. Milk, eggs, yogurt, and cheese are cheaper by the ounce at Sam's- you just have to buy more of it. So for the next few days I am going to be cooking from my fridge and pantry to make some room. And then likely Thursday I will go and do a major shop at Sam's. I'm looking forward to seeing if my wholesale experience will pay off. I can't say that I'm looking to exclusively shop there long term, but when I'm pinching pennies, it will be nice to have a plan to turn to.

And now I'm off to find a recipe for Fried Green Tomatoes. So stay tuned for a post later today.

Sunday, August 6, 2006

What Flavor Ice Cream Are You?

I confess, I like blogthings. They are silly and fun. And I thought that with the heat of summer, and the desire for a rich bowl of ice cream, that this blogthing was more than appropriate.

You Are Strawberry Ice Cream

A bit shy and sensitive, you are sweet to the core.
You often find yourself on the outside looking in.
Insightful and pensive, you really understand how the world works.

You are most compatible with chocolate chip ice cream.

Wedding Photos Ahead

If you continue to scroll down this morning, you will see a group of photos from yesterday's wedding. It was a beautiful wedding. So fun and so wonderful. It's really wierd to think this morning that my baby sister is married now!!!! Yesterday while I was sewing a bustle onto her dress, she asked me when it would sink in that she was actually married. I told her about two weeks...but I'm not sure that was a correct answer. Most days I go through life as it is. Taking joy in my children and my husband with each and every day. But then there are some days where something just strikes me and I find myself in awe that I am married to such a wonderful man. So the answer that with any luck, it will never fully sink in. However, the initial shock will wear off in a few weeks or so. After you and John have attended a few functions as a Mr. and Mrs. you will become accustomed to being a wife. :-)

Congratulations Liz and John!!!!!!!!!


Originally uploaded by erika_waz.
And as a good Mom, I simply have to highlight my little beauties. Here are Abigail and Zander before the wedding. Abigail got to wear her first pair of high heels...and was very excited about them until she announced while taking pictures that the backs of her feet hurt. So off they came. Both kids were real troopers the last few days, we certainly have some much needed days of rest coming up.

The whole fam

Originally uploaded by erika_waz.
And here's the whole extended family... The top row, left to right is my neice Kara in Caleb's arms, followed by Ben, Dad, John and Liz, Andy and Cody. The next row is Jenn, Belle, Mom, Myself, and Rachel, with Abigail and Zander at the bottom. Yikes!


Originally uploaded by erika_waz.
So here is the family. From left to right we have Caleb, Ben, Dad, Liz, Mom, Myself, and Rachel. Lizzie was the last one to get married... thank goodness I don't have any more siblings. I think we're all exhausted after this one!